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Opinion

February 9, 2012

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A paradise of folly

A paradise of folly

If you have a quarter of a million dollars to blow, the propensity to loot the public exchequer and the willingness to share the loot, then you are in luck. Chauffeur-driven armoured cars, police escorts and immunity from prosecution are included in the package.
If you are mentally incapacitated and thereby cannot hold office, so what? Even if, by mistake, a few millions of the loot are found lying in your account, a free-of-charge transfer to an offshore account will be arranged and you will be rewarded with a ministerial position.
The state can also arrange apologists from the media, courtesy the information ministry, which has secret funds. Note: the best positions are reserved for dual nationals and double-crossers with a knack for mocking and defying the Supreme Court. Performance, productivity, desire or aptitude for work will never be expected.
In a worst-case scenario, a presidential pardon, along with room and boarding in the Presidency or the Prime Minister’s House, will be available. Sadly, such are the perks enjoyed by Pakistani elected representatives, members of the ruling party to be specific.
The Zardari/PPP government holds the distinction of record-shattering worst performance; of course, with the exception of the unimaginable financial growth of its leadership and its allies’ bank accounts.
In the last four years, Pakistan has seen unprecedented inflation, highest unemployment figures, a low growth rate, plummeting currency value and high fuel prices. Inflation rose to 300 percent. According to the State Bank of Pakistan, food prices rose by 93 percent (while in India they dropped by 1.81 percent).
During the same period, the direct-tax revenue ratio in Pakistan was only 35.3 percent. Real GDP grew at a dismal 2.4 percent. Agriculture crept up at 1.2 percent. GDP per capita increased by 0.24 percent.
There were numerous increases in electricity and gas tariffs, the rupee was devalued from 75 to about 100 against the dollar and government borrowing jumped to around Rs3 trillion.
Yet, in a recent interview, when the president was asked to comment on his government’s poor performance, he replied, “In your opinion.” Leaving the viewers dumbfounded, he dismissed the reality as misperception.
Naturally, his aloofness raised questions about his mental state and the bubble he lives in. So, were the court documents filed in British courts by Mr Zardari’s psychiatrist Philip Saltiel really accurate? Dr Saltiel diagnosed him as suffering from illnesses like dementia, manic-depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Instead of our counting the days until the date when the president leaves office, shouldn’t the focus have been on establishing whether, to begin with, President Zardari is a legitimate officeholder?
Regardless of his illegitimate occupation of presidential office through the notorious NRO co-signed by an illegal authority, Gen Pervez Musharraf, it is imperative to establish Mr Zardari’s mental faculties. The Election Commission should subpoena his court records and order Dr Saltiel to testify whether he is still of the opinion that “I do not see any improvement in [Mr Zardari’s] issues for at least a year...”
Eyebrows should have been raised when Mr Zardari rewarded Rehman Malik and Babar Awan, who abandoned Benazir Bhutto as she drew her last breath. They were rewarded with coveted portfolios in the federal cabinet – for what, dereliction of duty? Besides their cowardice, they share another distinction: both hold fake doctorate degrees.
Mr Zardari is not known for good looks, but he will always be remembered for his good luck. If his marrying Benazir Bhutto and subsequently making it to the Presidency wasn’t lucky enough, defended by the biggest names in Pakistan’s lawyers’ community has to be on top of the list. His most prominent defenders include Babar Awan, Ali Ahmad Kurd, Asma Jahangir, and now Aitzaz Ahsan too.
Aitzaz Ahsan first sabotaged the lawyers’ long march by ending it just short of the Presidency. Then he squandered his good reputation by publicly ridiculing and maligning the media and the judiciary. Ali Ahmed Kurd frequently slanders the higher judiciary and claims that nowhere in the world are lawyers held in contempt of court.
Then there is Babar Awan, the brains behind the campaign of disobeying the judiciary. And Asma Jahangir, who never misses an opportunity to denounce the higher judiciary and malign the military, who happens to be an admirer of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray and the proud recipient of a peace award from Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, the Butcher of Gujarat.
The president escapes the country during natural calamities and has yet to attend the funeral of a martyr of the war against terrorism. Whenever Mr Zardari feels cornered he, digging deep into his bag of tricks, whips out the “Sindh card.”
If that doesn’t work, he uses the “trial of Benazir Bhutto’s grave” card, though he insists on a “trial” of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s grave. When all else fails, he ducks behind “presidential immunity”; and all along we thought the immunity was applicable to the presidential office, not essentially to the person holding that office.
There has to be something gravely wrong with a country whose rulers flout the law with impunity, the poor become poorer and the opportunistic rich become richer, where morality yields to loyalty, and where the president uses the numbers of years spent in jail as his qualification. If you thought Pakistan had become a fool’s paradise, you wouldn’t be joking.

The writer is a US-based freelancer.

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